I've been very fortunate to have running be a part of my life for so many years. I ran my first 2 mile road race when I was 10. I ran my first 10k within the next couple of years. I've never been a national phenomenon or anything, but running has taken me places beyond my wildest dreams.
I remember being 14 and watching the first olympic marathon on television. The most amazing thing to me was watching a woman from Switzerland finish - Gabriele Andersen-Scheiss. She came into the finisher stadium barely able to walk. She desperately needed medical attention, but no one could touch her or she'd be disqualified. I watched as she slowly made her way around the track, her mind largely incapable of communicating with her body. I was so in awe that someone could willingly put themself in a situation like that. (You can read a description of this, and the women's first marathon in 1984 here.) I was a young runner, with an average amount of athletic ability, but a great amount of mental ability. It somehow inspired me to want to be able to do what she did - to run at such a level that you could block out pain and frustration and fatigue with nothing but the finish line in your head.
At age 15 I was invited to go to China as part of an athletic exchange program. We had stopovers in Tokyo, Japan, and Seoul, Korea. We spent time in Hong Kong, and time in mainland China. The race we ran was actually in Canton, and mainland China was under communist rule at the time. Being a parent now, I can't even fathom how scary it must have been for my parents to allow me that experience. When we got off the train at one location in the countryside, lots of children had come to see the train. Many of them had never seen caucasion people before. They were in awe of some of our runners with 'big muscles' - wanting the guys on the team to flex their biceps for them. They loved small american flags that we had brought for them. I remember seeing so many old-fashioned bikes on the dusty streets, and seeing guards, armed with machine guns, as our bus rounded street corners. One of my most memorable photographs was near a market - of two children playing in an alleyway while their parents were cleaning fish from the day's catch. There were shy, but intrigued by my camera. The way of life there was so different than anything I knew.
While in college, I remember being at a meet in some small town in rural Texas. Several of us hijacked the team van one day to go exploring. We happened upon the oldest Dr. Pepper Bottling Company in the US at the time. It was the only one actually still using sugar as a sweetener. A little old man in his 80's or 90's gave us a tour, and said they were getting ready for the upcoming 100th birthday celebration. He had worked there since he was a little boy. I couldn't even imagine what that would be like. It was fascinating to me to see all-white cows out in the fields - something we don't have back home. And espresso was extremely hard to find anywhere - odd for me, coming from the place where I can visit the first ever Starbuck's on a regular basis. On another college trip, we flew through Vancouver, Canada, and one of our athletes was whisked away by security as we went through customs. She had 'mace' spray on her keychain (something female runners often carried before pepper spray), which was apparently an illegal weapon in Canada.
My marathon PR is from my first marathon - Vancouver, BC in 1994. I was so nervous I cried at the drop of a pin. Most of my family had come to watch and support me. We went to tour the Capilano Suspension Bridge. I went half way out, panicked, cried, and froze with fear. I couldn't go further and I couldn't go back. Somehow I'm here, so I must've done one or the other. That marathon course is still my favorite - don't know if they've changed it. I got to run through Stanley Park and across the lion's gate bridge. The course had great views of the city.
I got a chance to see Boston, drive along the coast of Maine, and see the sun rise over the ocean - a long-wished dream. My coach at the time jokingly suggested I hook up and run with 'Joanie' - (Joan Benoit Samuelson) who lives in a town I went through. Plymouth, Massachusetts holds so much history of the beginning of this country, and Cape Cod is everything I always imagined - truly beautiful and peaceful with lots of little white cottages.
A few years ago, my husband and I were fortunate enough to go to Anchorage, Alaska. We ran a race there simply for the souvenir t-shirts, and had a blast mingling with the local runners when we arrived early to the race. We got to experience the Kincaid Park trails - well-known in the winter for world-class cross-county skiing. You can stand at the end of the trail and watch planes fly so close you can almost reach out and touch them. I loved watching the sun set over the mudflats of the Cook Inlet.
On our recent trip to Chicago, we took over 400 photographs. One of my husband's most favorite was the one of me I added in my 'Chicago' post when we finally arrived at the Old Plank Road Trail. He said it exemplifies how excited I was to simply be out running on a trail in another part of the country. Rail trails are such cool ways to re-use land. I think I mentioned the Chehalis Western Trail and the Ironhorse Trail near my home in an earlier post. The Ironhorse has a 2 mile long tunnel that when you're in the middle, it's truly pitch black and you need a headlamp or flashlights. The Foothills Trail I also mentioned - it has views of Mt Rainier up very close - although I'm lucky enough to see that out my living room window. It glows pink at sunset.
My latest issue of Running Times magazine had me drooling over a featured adventure race in Costa Rica. We keep getting magazines like Outdoors or National Geographic that feature places like the Paris Catacombs, Morocco, or untamed deserts in California. I have such an itch to run in all of these places it makes me crazy. Runtheplanet.com is a fun place to peruse where people run in far-away places. I think the two most fascinating marathons would be Safaricom in Kenya or the midnight sun marathon in Norway. We have a lot of family history from Norway. And Safaricom - well, to see the animals. And yet, there are so many interesting places to run in every city on every continent on the planet. The possiblities are endless. I guess races are a way to get a souvenir shirt while you're there. Typically marathons like to showcase the cities in which they're in. Smaller races help you get a feel for the climate of runners in the region.
I think if we could live anywhere besides where we live - which we wouldn't do, we love it - but if we could - we'd choose La Jolla, California for the atmosphere, the beaches, and the relaxed way of life, or San Francisco, simply so I could train in the hills on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge. One of my marathons this summer, I chose for the beauty of the course - to see what I can see - out in the middle of nowhere. The Mesa Falls Marathon is probably the smallest marathon I've ever run, and I don't plan on running a fast time, but it's likely to be my most memorable just to enjoy the course.
I think - off the top of my head - if I could choose any foreign spot to run . . . today I'd have to say Pike's Peak, Colorado - run through Garden of the Gods. My next fascination would be Brazil. I don't know why yet. My husband mentioned it, and it just stuck. And yet, I'm so content to run nearly the same place everyday in the city in which I live. It changes every day. As the tide goes out, it seems to wash away the day, and each new breeze brings in a new tide teeming with new life to explore for another day. My husband brought home a new book for me the other day: 26.2 Marathon Stories, by Kathrine Switzer and her husband, Roger Robinson. It's the most inspiring running book I've ever opened. Here's a quote from within: "We run , not because we think it is doing us good, but because we enjoy it and cannot help ourselves. It also does us good because it helps us to do other things better. It gives a man the chance to bring out power that might otherwise remain locked away inside himself. The urge to struggle lies latent in everyone." - Roger Bannister
To me, running is a metaphor for life. It's all about the journey - what you learn along the way, what you take with you, and what you leave behind. It's about the people you meet along the way, the mistakes you make and the challenges you overcome. Running gives you highs and lows, it gives you solitude and company, it gives you anxiety and a peace within yourself. Running gives back to you everything that you put into it. Running gives you a reason to wake up in the morning, and helps you fall asleep at night. Running opens your eyes to the world and takes you on a journey of self-discovery down every road and trail you set out to explore.